Robert Walker: ‘Penalised for a twitch of an ear’ *H&H Plus*


  • They’re show horses, not police horses, reminds H&H’s showing columnist

    It’s been really nice to have a cluster of shows to attend this past month. One thing I’ve noticed is how on form all the young horses are, both my own and those of my fellow competitors. I don’t know if it’s just that all of my current string have better brains or if they’ve benefited from the increased work at home. We’ve been as full on with their work as if they were out showing.

    While at the UK Nationals (15–16 August), I noticed horses were a lot fresher. In many ways, the criteria for a show horse had become similar to that of a police horse. So people were working them for hours before the class in fear any exuberance would put them down the line. And horses were trotted around for 10 minutes before going into the ring. The pressure had reduced and riders were daring to show their horses off more, rather than just sitting pretty as a passenger.

    Compared to when I was growing up, the intensity of the circuit is now much greater and there has been a shift in judges. If you looked at a schedule from 30 years ago, it would be full of judges who made a living through training and riding. They’d be more understanding of a horse who perhaps had a small misdemeanor or expression of character.

    Today, some judges penalise for a twitch of an ear, so as riders we can quash their personalities. I’d much rather see a quality, typey horse show some exuberance than watch a zombie ridden with the handbrake on.

    This sudden influx of shows has also been good for the business side of the industry. Clients are back and they’re reinvesting for the next show season, which can only be positive for our sport.

    “You can and will win”

    My son Sam has recently stepped away from showing. He’d been brought up with it as a business rather than a hobby and he’d fallen out of love with it a bit. We’ve never pressured him to continue and he had a great run while he was competing. The sport will always be there if and when he wants to pick it back up.

    At the moment, there are ample opportunities for young riders, as well as amateurs. I always joke that the only class we are missing is one specifically for professionals. But home-producers and amateurs are also holding their own at the big shows. You only have to look at the results of the hack of the year final at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) to see how well they’re doing.

    It goes to show that if your horse is good enough and you dare to step out of your comfort zone, you can and will win; the judges won’t ignore you.

    A sacrifice too far?

    My own step up to the big league came with a brace of nice small hunters my dad owned. I came straight off a novice 14hh hunter pony on to horses. I remember a particular small hunter named Double Coin. When I was 17, I trekked down to the Royal International with her and was drawn in top out of 42 entries.

    I went by myself and as Dad wasn’t there, I had to plait her up myself, something I’d never done before. I ended up third but we got a lot of notice – a young lad on an unknown horse coming out of nowhere and achieving a top pull.

    My advice is that your horse has to go well to keep knocking on that door. You can’t necessarily blame it on a non-professional status, your horses need to be pulling out top-notch performances to achieve those placings.

    I would like to finish with a quick comment about ride judging. This season we have been willing to sacrifice certain things to get showing on the road, but I do worry that we might be sacrificing too much, such as our ride judges.

    I watch racing on a regular basis. I’ve noticed that jockeys are legged up on to horses by several different grooms to compete throughout the day, so what’s the difference to a ride judge being legged up at a show and riding? We can’t afford to lose this aspect of showing. The art of show horse production will drastically fall and this is something we can’t accept.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 3 September 2020